Stuart Cross, Author, First & Fast
For the past 30 years or more, business leaders have been exhorted to move faster and create more agile organizations that are better able to succeed in increasingly dynamic and unpredictable markets. But what are the behaviors, processes and strategies that are critical to lead your organization at pace without creating confusion, frustration and unnecessary risk?
As part of the research for my new book, First & Fast, I have met with successful CEOs and leaders and identified practical approaches that work covering organizational culture, structure, strategy, innovation and customer relationship management. Here are 7 immediate steps you can take that can transform your organization’s speed and agility:
- Clarify your #1 goal. All businesses have many goals, but the fast-paced companies have identified which is their single, most important goal and built alignment and focus around it. At one of my major UK retail clients, for instance, the top team agreed a #1 goal to grow their market-leading share from 25% to 33%. Having agreed and shared the new goal with their people and stakeholders, all subsequent decisions were made on the basis of how well they helped the company get to 33% share, and in just four years the goal was achieved.
- Kill your fear of failure. A survey of Silicon Valley’s most successful entrepreneurs revealed that the behavior they believed set them apart was their ability to innovate fearlessly. Fear creates procrastination, inaction and organizational paralysis. Virtually all the successful innovations I’ve experienced have resulted from a series of failures. The ‘trick’ is not to avoid failure, but to fail as quickly and cheaply as you can.
- Model high-speed leadership. You cannot expect your people to work at pace if you don’t model the behaviors you’re after. Ensure you and your leadership team work at pace, making swift decisions, setting and hitting seemingly unreasonable deadlines, and encouraging brevity and simplicity from everyone.
- Ensure strategic focus. The Japanese have a saying that ‘you can’t chase two hares’. If a dog chases one hare it has a 10-20% of catching it, but if it tries to chase two that probability quickly falls to zero. It’s the same with any organization’s strategic priorities. If you try to move on too many fronts the chances are you’ll slowly fail, but if you can focus on just a handful of priorities you have the opportunity to rapidly succeed.
- Forget annual plans. The pace of most markets means that annual plans are redundant as soon as they’re written. It’s vital to have clear, longer-term goals, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to stick to rigid, annual plans. As Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO once put it, “We’re fixed on the vision, but flexible on the journey.” Quarterly or 90-day plans helps to build this flexibility and speed. They are short enough to ensure that the pressure is really on your teams to deliver, but long enough to get elements of even your most complex projects delivered. They keep the organization’s focus on delivery and pace.
- Ramp up your review cycles. Organizational pace requires more discipline, not less. Many high-speed companies don’t use monthly or quarterly reviews of their key strategic projects, preferring instead to develop a faster management rhythm. At one UK retailer, for instance, the CEO and his top team met at 6.30 am every Monday morning to review the latest progress on their store development activities, highlighting the initiatives’ importance to the group and accelerating the introduction of new merchandising solutions.
- Seek and destroy functional silos. No structure is perfect and in any organization with more than one employee some sort of silo is likely to exist! That said, there are many steps you can take to destroy your functional silos, improve internal collaboration and increase your organizational speed, including for instance, creating common goals and incentives, rewarding cross-functional behaviors, recruiting for collaborative capabilities, developing cross-functional career paths and, most importantly, ensuring that the top ‘team’ genuinely acts as a team with a single, shared agenda.
Which of these seven actions could help your business to move more quickly and grow more rapidly?
About the Author
Stuart Cross helps market-leading businesses to accelerate growth, attracting clients including Walgreens Boots Alliance, Avon, GSK, Sealed Air Inc., Masco Inc. and Aimia Inc. His new book, First & Fast, is out now. You can find out more at www.morgancross.co.uk